The Golden Rule

Rachel Van Leeuwen, Opinion/Editorial Editor

Anytime we fight with our siblings or want to say something rude, we’re reminded of the Golden Rule: a standard society has set for kindness.

What is the Golden Rule, and is it effective for increasing kindness? The Golden Rule says you should “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Harry J. Gensler, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Scranton and author of Ethics and the Golden Rule, says, “The heart of [the Golden Rule] is switching places. You step into another’s shoes. You ask,

‘Am I willing that if I were in the same situation then I be treated that same way?’” For example, you could tease your little sister and think there is no harm in it, but if you were being teased in the same way, you wouldn’t think it was harmless. The Golden Rule leads to kindness because people are likely to treat others better when they consider how they would feel in the same situation.

The Golden Rule is often considered a universal rule because it is accepted by most religions as a moral standard. According to Gensler, “The idea is global. It’s common to all major world religions; Confucius, Hillel, Jesus, and many others used it to sum up how to live.” It seems that we rarely agree on anything anymore, but the Golden Rule is one area where we do seem to agree. The Golden Rule’s ubiquity is a result of religious leaders from most major religions teaching the same concept in slightly different ways. We’ve all come to accept it as a standard of kindness because we’ve heard it from many sources and try to apply the teaching to our lives.

However, is it possible that the Golden Rule is not the rule we should be living by? In their book, The Platinum Rule, Dr. Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor say, “If applied verbatim, [the Golden Rule] can backfire and actually cause personality conflicts. Why? Because following the Golden Rule literally–treating people the way you’d like to be treated–means dealing with others from your own perspective. It implies that we’re all alike, that what I want and need is exactly what you want and need.” Alessandra and O’Connor suggest we live by the Platinum Rule. The Platinum Rule says you should “treat others as they would like to be treated.” The Platinum Rule accounts for the different personalities you’ll come in contact with and requires that you get to know a person so you can know how they would best like to be treated. Living by the Platinum Rule is personal and time-consuming, leading to better results for the person you show kindness to.

If you don’t follow the Platinum Rule, living by the Golden Rule is certainly better than living by no rule at all. The Golden Rule is important because it encourages us to treat others with more respect and compassion. It allows us to forget about ourselves and serve someone else by thinking about how they feel instead of always thinking about yourself. Whether you treat others as you would like to be treated, or you treat others as they would like to be treated, you are thinking about how to be kind to others. As long as kindness is your goal, you’re moving in the right direction.